A French Digital Revolution?

Amazon recently introduced its Kindle in France. Can a French (digital) revolution be far behind?

At a party in Paris the other night, the conversation turned away from politics for a while (thankfully) during this presidential election year on both sides of the Atlantic and toward books. In particular, e-books.

Interestingly, the talk was similar to what I’d heard not too long ago in the U.S., when people would speak about how they hoped that so-called “real” books wouldn’t disappear as digital editions took hold.

One of the couples with whom I spoke had recently visited New York, and they were impressed by how many people on the subway were absorbed in their e-readers. They wondered if the same would be true in France, if e-readers took hold (in Paris, and doubtless elsewhere, people read while taking public transportation).

France is a country where books are respected, as are writers. Everyone, it seems, has written at least one book. Sales aren’t quite those one would see in the U.S. for even top-selling books (with rare exceptions), but books are important. As they should be.

But the talk about e-books versus “real” books revealed a similar misunderstanding about what constitutes a book. It’s the content, not the cover. People have a sentimental attachment to the physical paper, when what they really remember is having read something that touched or inspired them: they substitute the artifact for the ideas. People don’t remember beloved books simply for the crinkly paper, or the spine or the cover art: they remember what the author wrote.

Still, for me, this was a worthy conversation, because it showed how much the written word, in whatever form, means to people. The idea of building a digital platform isn’t really known here in France, unlike in America, where more people are comfortable trying to build a platform to spread their message.

But that’s likely to change as digital books (or, in French, des livres numériques) become more common.

Who knows? But once the digital door has been opened, it’s hard to close.

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